Last week, I had the opportunity to tour one of my firm’s recently completed school projects, London Middle School, with Eric Steva, the project architect for SHP, some representatives for the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) and Rachel Gutter, the Director of USGBC’s Center for Green Schools. I have been involved with some aspects of London Middle School as we pursue LEED Platinum certification for the project, but seeing the project a few months after first occupancy and talking to the school’s principal and superintendent was a fantastic opportunity to really feel the impact of the work we do.

Much of our discussion as we toured the new school focused on anecdotes about student performance and teacher satisfaction that the school has experienced since opening. The school’s principal shared with us that they have seen a 30% improvement in teacher attendance in the new school than they had in the old middle school.

Increased teacher attendance results in tangible financial savings for the school district through lower substitute teacher pay, so you can imagine how enthusiastic the school administration was about this number given the current economy. The principal also shared the story of a new art teacher he was able to hire for the school who was so impressed with the new building and the opportunities it provided that she declined a job offer in a different “more stable” school district. There have not been any efforts yet to compare student performance between the new and old schools, but we did discuss plans to at least evaluate standardized test scores once testing is done later this year.

We also visited classrooms where overhead light monitors provided ample, even light and allowed classroom lights to be significantly dimmed or even turned off. We peeked into the bathrooms to see the tubular solar devices that provided natural light from above and visited the school gym where daylight was plentiful.

As we walked through the building we were impressed by all of the views to the surrounding site and the nearby elementary and high schools, grounding the new building and inviting learning opportunities to trickle out onto the site where bio-swales and native prairie grasses are pervasive. It’s difficult to tour such a beautiful new school and not get excited about learning.

Please stay tuned for part 2 of “Why do Green Schools Matter?” where I will depart from my experiences at London Middle School and delve into the white paper entitled “The Impact of School Buildings on Student Health and Performance: A Call for Research”. This document was released as a joint effort between The McGraw-Hill Research Foundation and the USGBC Center for Green Schools earlier this week and addresses what we really know about green schools and their impact on students and other stakeholders.